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Exclusive: Mehbooba Mufti speaks out!

Last updated on: September 20, 2010 12:42 IST

'Omar is unable to connect with Kashmiris'

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People's Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti has never hidden her dislike for her family's political rivals in Jammu and Kashmir, the Abdullahs, and in particular Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

In an exclusive interview with Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt, Mehbooba Mufti says that although Omar Abdullah has survived as Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, he has been unable to govern.

I think Omar Abdullah's biggest problem in governing Kashmir is that he is unable to connect with the Kashmiris.

When you don't know what's happening at the grassroots, then you start tackling issues like any Delhi-ite!

There has to be a difference between the attitude of any Kashmiri leader and a Delhi-ite leader, because we see Kashmir from a different viewpoint.

Like people whom I met in New Delhi recently (during the all-party meeting on September 15) say, Kashmir gets a huge package and so much money, then why are Kashmiris sulking?

Omar Abdullah also started thinking on those lines.

Sometimes he starts making the right noises, but no action follows. Omar Abdullah didn't stick to one policy, but kept changing his stand.

As told to Sheela Bhatt

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Image: Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at the Independence Day celebrations in Srinagar . Inset: PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
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'Omar's policies are full of contradictions'

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When we (the PDP) formed the government in the state (in 2002), all the Hurriyat leaders were in jail. We released all of them because democracy is a battle of ideas. We gave them full freedom.

When Omarsaab's government was formed, he started blaming everybody.

When the stone-pelting started, he blamed the Opposition leaders. He jailed (hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah) Geelanisaab.

Then, the situation went out of control so he got the army, and did everything he could.

Then, he went to Geelanisaab and bowed at his feet to get him out of jail to save his government. Geelanisaab came out, he made an appeal and it had an impact.

Then, Geelanisaab said he would go to (the) Hazratbal (shrine) to pray. What storm would have that caused if he had read the namaaz there?

Can only Sheikh Abdullah's family visit there (Hazratbal)? He (Geelani) was arrested again.

The Kashmiri police said (moderate Hurriyat leader) Mirwaiz Farooq should not be allowed to take out a procession till he (Omar Abdullah) allowed it. Then, Pakistan's flag was hoisted, and when a building was set ablaze, you filed an FIR.

You can see his confusion in running the state. He says something about the harsh army act and then assigns more areas to the security forces. It's a contradiction.

Omar hunts with the hounds and runs with the hare. He got support from all sides when he became the chief minister, but the only thing we see today is that he is surviving as chief minister, but just unable to govern.


Image: Relatives of a victim of police firing at his funeral in Kashmir
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
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'We were able to create an atmosphere of reconciliation'

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He has got the external support of New Delhi to survive, but for governance you need the internal support of your people. He has lost the confidence of his own people.

In fact, Omar is diverting attention from his inability by blaming others for 'provoking the people.'

There is no doubt that if the situation in Kashmir worsens, Pakistan and the separatists will fish in troubled waters. But you can't shrug off responsibility by blaming Pakistan.

Today, the situation has turned so bad that it's now out of control.

During the PDP rule, these youth were demanding different things, but today they are demanding azaadi. It is not the case that then the sentiment of azaadi was absent or that the people were not looking for a revolution.

Even during our rule tension was there, militancy was much more and interference from Pakistan was greater. Still, we provided a semblance of good governance. We were able to create an atmosphere of reconciliation.

Omar got everything on a platter; still he is unable to govern.

We understand that sometimes human rights violation can happen in running the government. But Omar ignored it, so slowly and slowly the people's anger grew.


Image: Kashmiri protesters throw stones at the police during a protest in Srinagar
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
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'Omar's mishandling has turned the act of stone-pelting into an institution'

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Omar narrowed down the entire situation around 'stone-pelters.' He started de-humanising it.

It is a mass sentiment. When you dismiss such emotions then even an ordinary woman goes to the street, picks up a stone and feels pride in doing it.

Omar's mishandling has turned the act of stone-pelting into an institution.

Previously, Kashmiris considered the act of throwing a stone as the work of rowdies. Now, they think the stone is their weapon against the establishment and the system.

We used to go to people to say sorry. We used to take army commanders with us and asked them to apologise. We can't bring back the dead. We can at least relate to their pain.

During the PDP's rule, when a man was crushed by a police van and died, I went to his house. His daughter pulled me up by the collar, and my personal secretary came to my rescue.

I told him, 'Let her do it, she has a right over me'.

We owned up responsibility. But Omar blames the PDP, the separatists and Pakistan for everything.

When the situation went from bad to worse, Omar said the anger of the people is not against him, but against New Delhi.

He is responsible for bringing the Central Reserve Police Force, army and police in direct confrontation with the people. No buffer exists now.


Image: An anti-government protest in Srinagar turns violent
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
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'Omar's government is the most brutal face of democracy'

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>The National Conference has never allowed the Opposition to grow. They encourage separatists by not allowing democracy to function.

The NC likes opposition from outside the mainstream parties so they can have a free run.

In this grim situation, I don't think the NC or PDP can form a coalition government because in a democracy, the Opposition has its own role.

You can't expect Mayawati and Rahul Gandhi to come together. That's not possible.

In a democracy, if the Opposition party and ruling party join hands, even then it won't solve the problem. I believe it is adding insult to the Kashmiris' injury when people ask questions about a PDP-Congress alliance.

Don't narrow down the issue of Kashmir to transfer of power. We had transferred power even to Sheikh Abdullah. If that was the solution, then lakhs of Kashmiris would not have died.

I repeat, this government is the most brutal face of democracy.

I think the issue won't be solved if you replace just a chief minister. People need breathing space. I don't know how it can be done.

I don't think transfer of power is enough, but definitely Omar's government is like a red rag to the bull.

It is seen as the face of repression and brutality.


Image: A protester in Srinagar
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
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'Kashmir is not burning because Obama is coming to India'

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I don't think anywhere in the world has a democratically elected chief minister asked to destroy trucks carrying milk and vegetables so that they would not reach the people.

Check it out with your independent sources. I consider it important that the all-party delegation see for themselves how Kashmiris are living.

Today the common man is suffering. If his son steps out of home he is shot at, and if he remains confined to home he goes hungry.

The government is not allowing milk and vegetables to reach urban areas. They are destroying milk vans. There is a huge shortage of medicines. They check ambulances to see if they are transporting milk.

How cruel can you get?

I think it's not enough to survive in government when you can't help your own people.

In which part of India are 24 people shot only because they joined a procession against the Quran's burning?

I disagree with the people that Kashmir is burning because (United States President Barack) Obama is coming to India.

Do you think this kind of upsurge is possible to generate where 100 people get killed?

Now the separatists may take advantage of the situation around his arrival because the situation is ripe. But it was not created because Obama is coming.


Image: The funeral procession of a Kashmiri youth killed in police firing in Srinagar
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
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'The situation is worse than in 1989'

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In Kashmir you have to create an atmosphere for all stakeholders to sit and decide.

The National Conference is talking about autonomy. We believe autonomy is not a solution, but it can be a part of the solution.

Autonomy is addressing just one part of the Kashmir problem. It will define relations between New Delhi and Srinagar.

What about the external dimension? What about the internal dimension of Ladakh and Jammu?

In Kashmir, the solution is important, but even the process is important. How you arrive at the solution should be debated. Youth has to be rewarded comprehensively.

Kashmir is a volatile issue and every passing day is costing us.

Today Kashmir is there due to the blood of Kashmiris. But it cannot carry on like this.

The country can't remain untouched. It will hit one day. The situation is worse than in 1989.

Since the last decade I used to visit the nooks and corners of Kashmir when trouble took place.

But today, even Mehbooba Mufti is unable to visit the hospital to see the injured people.

Today, people are asking, 'Why did we cast our vote?'

Things are getting worse. I have no idea where it will end.

Kashmir is seeing a mass upsurge at this point of time. People are being punished and being dehumanised.


Image: A protest underway in Srinagar against the government
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
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